Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 22

Ivanov and Albright appeared to have had as little success surmounting differences over arms control as they did over Chechnya. U.S. officials had made it clear prior to Albright’s arrival that she intended to use the visit to push yet again for Russia to accept Washington’s proposed changes to the ABM treaty. The United States and Russia have now conducted numerous formal negotiating sessions devoted to strategic arms reductions, missile defense and the ABM treaty, and ratification by Russia of the START II treaty. All have ended on the same note. Moscow has proclaimed the 1972 ABM accord to be the cornerstone of international strategic stability and has made quite clear Russia’s disinterest in negotiating changes in the treaty which would allow the United States to deploy a limited national missile defense system aimed at deterring missile attacks by “rogue” states. Disagreements in this area have likewise stymied efforts to move forward on strategic arms reduction.

That yesterday’s talks went much the same way was suggested by Ivanov’s statement that Russia and the U.S. could find other ways to counter missile threats and that the ABM accord remains the foundation of the entire arms control system. He said that the treaty would collapse if the U.S.-sought changes were made. That, he added, would be a “very serious mistake” (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, January 31; International Herald Tribune, February 1). According to at least one report, however, Clinton administration officials remain undeterred by these repeated rebuffs. They are said to believe that their “drip-drip” approach of steadily pushing for the ABM changes has led some Russian defense experts to admit privately that Russia faces the same threat as the United States does of possible nuclear missile attack from rogue states (UPI, January 31). If that is so, it was not reflected in Ivanov’s statements to the press yesterday, nor has it been reflected to any significant degree in the numerous Russian press commentaries that have appeared on the subject.

Albright did win yet another pledge from the Russian government that it would make a priority of winning parliamentary ratification of the START II treaty. That, unfortunately, is a pledge which U.S. officials have heard repeatedly over the past several years, but it is one yet to be fulfilled. Some suggestions were made in early January that the newly elected Russian Duma would move quickly this year to approve the treaty–Defense Minister Igor Sergeev had predicted that it would be ratified before Russia’s March 26 presidential election–but Communist leaders in the Duma have suggested that that timetable may be too optimistic (Itar-Tass, January 12; AP, Itar-Tass, January 19). Russian legislators, moreover, are likely to make approval of the treaty depend on continued U.S. compliance with the ABM accord.

With respect to Russian-U.S. bilateral relations, Albright also intended to use her visit to Moscow to size up Acting President Vladimir Putin. That, however, will have to wait until tomorrow, when she is scheduled to meet with him. In the meantime, attention in Moscow will turn to the Middle East. As co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process, Albright and Ivanov were scheduled today to host multilateral talks bringing together representatives from Israel, several Arab states and donor countries backing the Middle East peace process, including Japan and the European Union. The talks are also expected to afford Putin a chance to make his first appearance on the diplomatic stage. In a message sent to Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat on the eve of the talks, Putin reaffirmed Moscow’s support for Palestinian rights. He also reportedly said that he hoped to meet Arafat in the Holy Land “as soon as circumstances allow” (Reuters, January 31).